Thursday, December 13, 2012

Engineering a Legacy: Pete Annunziato ATD Branch Chief Reflects on 40 years of ECBC

When Peter Annunziato, Branch Chief of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) Engineering Directorate’s Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) Branch, looks back at his nearly 41- year career with ECBC, he has one prominent message to pass onto the rest of the workforce.
“Know when to shoot your inner engineer,” said Annunziato, who is retiring at the end of 2012. “The hardest thing to do as an engineer or scientist is to know when to stop. Your instinct is to want to work out every little problem and perfect every detail, but unless the change is a matter of safety, know when to draw the line in the sand and call it a

Knowing when to stop and reassess the situation, is a value that Annunziato said can be applied to multiple aspects of a career, not just a specific project.

“The work we do here is serious business. We are supporting our Warfighters and that is huge,” Annunziato said. “But at the same time, you can’t take the job so seriously that you are constantly stressed out or don’t enjoy the work. If you can’t enjoy it, then do something else you can enjoy.”

Annunziato said enjoying the people, the work, and the sense of community is what kept him at ECBC for four decades. Signs of his dedication will continue to be present at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), from the M58 Wolf that sits near the entrance to the Route 24 gate, to the lessons that he taught the people he worked with.

While “shooting the engineer” is a motto that Annunziato can now pass on to future generations, it was not always his mantra. Years of projects, interactions and learning to make the most of new opportunities helped transform him from a detail-oriented systems engineer to a respected Branch Chief who earned the 2009 Baltimore Federal Executive Board Excellence in Federal Career for Outstanding Supervisor Gold Award, and the 2010 Ancient Order of the Dragon Award.

The Engineer
Annunziato has always been in the business of engineering; although he would call it an art. A native of Philadelphia, Pa., he began working for the government in 1971. Annunziato’s first job was with the U.S. Bureau of Mines, in Morgantown W. Va., where he worked with petroleum engineers on fluidized bed combustion, and then at the Testing and Certification Labs with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on certifying filter cartridges, respirators and facemasks.

Excited to get back to the East Coast, Annunziato accepted an engineering position in 1974, with the Warning and Protection Division of the Materials Technology Directorate, then a part of ECBC. While with Warning and Protection,
Annunziato worked on his first project - the M9 Chemical Agent Detector Paper.

“The M9 Chemical Agent Detector Paper was one of the three projects that I can say really shaped me as an engineer,” Annunziato said. “This project was my introduction to producibility engineering.”

Producibility engineering challenged Annunziato to take a close look at an item holistically, and he believes his foray into this field positioned him to become an effective project lead, learning to pay close attention to the details without losing vision of the big picture. “The only thing missing was how to deal with people,” Annunziato said.

“I think I learned that by completing a Master’s degree in Engineering Administration through The George Washington University.”

In 1980, Annunziato completed the M9 Chemical Agent Detector Paper development project and moved it into production. This foundational assignment provided him with the confidence and expertise to take on roles in several other detector projects, including the M272 Water Testing Kit, the M18/M15 Chemical Detector Kit, and the M256 Detector Kit.

“I learned very soon that there was much more to life than just the engineering portion of a project. I learned there was more to life, period,” Annunziato recalls. As a newlywed and new father in the early 80s, Annunziato learned this first-hand as he took on new responsibilities both at home and at work. “Around that time, I took advantage of an opportunity, as an Executive Development Trainee, with the Chemical Research Development Engineering Command Headquarters, which was then another name for ECBC,” Annunziato said.

Similar to the current Executive Officer to the Technical Director Program, Annunziato had the opportunity to take a break from his work as a systems engineer to learn about the Center’s business operations.

“In addition to spending three months in the Technical Director’s office, the program required me to spend three months at The Pentagon with the Deputy Chief of Staff. That detail really opened my eyes,” Annunziato said. “All of a sudden, I was seeing the full spectrum of factors that shape a project. I learned there are all kinds of relational and political etiquette that go into securing and maintaining funding for a project, which I was not aware of.”

In 1987, Annunziato took on a new role with a related organization, the Project Manager for Smoke and Obscuration (PM Smoke), where he worked on his second most memorable project - the M58 Wolf Smoke System – an armored vehicle, which produces smoke screens to block visual and infrared detection.

“While PM Smoke wasn’t technically ECBC, I still worked with several ECBC employees who were matrixed to the PM,” Annunziato said.

This project allowed Annunziato to experience the full acquisition lifecycle from concept and development, to production and fielding within four years. It was during his time at PM Smoke that Annunziato met one of his most influential leaders – Lt. Col. George Birdsong.

“Lt. Col. Birdsong let us grow. He would give us general guidance and direction, and then left us alone to get work done. I feel like I really matured and came into my own under him,” Annunziato said.

Annunziato is reminded of his time with PM Smoke and Lt. Col. Birdsong on his way to work every day, as he drives by one of the M58 Wolf systems on display near the main gate of APG.

After the success of the M58 Wolf, Annunziato returned to ECBC as an official employee again in the summer of 2003 to take on a new challenge - leading his own team to create the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Unmanned Ground Reconnaissance (CUGR) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD).
Annunziato describes the ACTD as an “interesting program.” It was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems Concepts and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office.

Annunziato describes the ACTD as an “interesting program.” It was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Advanced Systems Concepts and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office.The CUGR ACTD included two thrust areas: The Joint Contaminated Surface Detector (JCSD), and the CBRN Unmanned Ground Vehicle (CUGV).

“The exciting thing about the JCSD is that it was a new concept for detecting low volatile liquid and solid chemicals on surfaces using an optical scanner based on Raman technology. The project gave me a lot of intense scientific training, not to mention a new-found appreciation of Hawaiian shirts, and the multiple trips to Hawaii and Alaska.”

Since CUGR, Annunziato has completed other ATDs, including the Hazard Mitigation, Materiel and Equipment Restoration (HaMMER), and Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance (RASR) efforts.

As ATD Branch Chief, Annunziato continued his vision of focusing efforts on the development of his team members.
“You need to learn to delegate and trust. You need to give them responsibility and authority to build their confidence, morale and effectiveness for the future,” Annunziato said. Members of the ATD Branch describe Annunziato in the same way he described Lt. Col. Birdsong.

“Pete’s leadership style is consensus building. He requests input from team members and stakeholders on program decisions, plans, and goals. He is not a micro manager, but is always available when you need advice or have questions. He expects your best effort in all your contributions to the team,” said Doretha Green, ATD team member and RASR Technical Manager.

Two years ago, Annunziato was appointed as the U.S. representative and chair on an International Task Force (ITF) working for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for CBRN Defense under the Chemical Biological Radiological Memorandum of Understanding. During his tenure, he led a group of international colleagues to identify novel concepts in the use of non-traditional agents by adversaries. The activities within the four-member nations - Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States - have programs addressing physical counter-measures to non-traditional agents. The two-year effort culminated with the completion of the ITF’s final report in September.

“This was one of my most enjoyable non-project related efforts. I’ve met some very distinguished and capable scientists in the four member nations, and helped to identify capabilities and gaps to shape future development in this emerging threat area,” Annunziato said.

The Lasting Impact

Though Annunziato may not be at his desk in the Berger building come 2013, his lessons will stay with the Center’s workforce. Wenona Vistoso, a Booz Allen Hamilton contract lead who worked with Annunziato for almost five years, said although Annunziato was technically her client, over the years he had grown from an influential mentor to a friend.

“Pete leads with his heart, believes in what is right and truly cares about people,” Vistoso said. “He organizes groups of people to achieve a common goal by teaching each person on the team various trades of leadership, and then provides each person with the opportunity to lead. His style of leadership is what every college textbook teaches.”

Honesty was the best policy that HaMMER Technical Manager Shawn Funk took away from Annunziato’s leadership.
“Working under Pete confirmed for me that being honest and open with your customers is the best policy, and keeping all of your cards on the table is a good way to build trust,” Funk said. “When Pete was leading CUGR, he kept the lines of communication open with our DTRA customer, and the team continues to follow this practice on our individual ATDs.”

With a career that has taken him from Harford County to the Nation’s capital, Hawaii, Europe and
Australia, Annunziato is ready to fight his engineer instinct, take a step back and enjoy more time at home with his wife, three children, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.

“It is important to learn how to do your work at work, and do home at home,” Annunziato said, “Enjoy your children and your grandchildren, because life moves fast. If you don’t appreciate those moments when you can, they will be gone before you know it.”

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